February 12, 2004

History of Hospitality

Hospitality is as ancient as humans. Welcoming the stranger, the foreigner, has been practiced everywhere for centuries. Today, in fact, hospitality is still present in the most ancient cultures, according to missionary friends who have worked in Africa or the Middle East. Hospitality, which comes from the Latin “hospes” (guest) has endured as an expression of trust and welcoming over another familiar word: hostility, from “hostes” (enemy) which is the opposite reaction of defense, fear, and aggression toward the stranger approaching one’s home.

In ancient times, offering hospitality to a foreigner asking for shelter was considered a sign of civilization and piety. As written in the Odyssey, Homer says that the gods traveled through cities in mortal form observing who treated outsiders with violence and who greeted them with kindness. It is interesting to wonder why hostility predominates today instead of hospitality in the wealthiest countries, perhaps because we have so much we are afraid of losing.

In the Bible, the religious value of hospitality common to other religions is highlighted. In the Gospel Jesus sings praises to hospitality:
  • “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the One who sent me…” (Matthew 10, 40)
  • “You can be sure that whoever gives even a drink of cold water to one of the least of these my followers, because he is my follower, will certainly receive a reward.” (Matthew 10, 24)

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